Ron Frees is the RacingAroundJersey.com
Driver of the Week
For many New Jersey race fans the name Ron Frees evokes the image of a number 43 Street Stock dominating a race. Whether it be the dirt of Bridgeport Speedway and New Egypt Speedway, or the asphalt of Wall Stadium Speedway, one thing most can agree on is if Frees is in the field he is the man to beat.
Many of those same knowledgeable race fans would also tell you the difference between an Asphalt Modified and a Street Stock is about as great as a dirt surface is from a paved one. Street Stocks are as basic as a race car can be. They have high roll centers, and race on skinny tires. Drivers can lean on each other thanks to the fenders that cover the tires.
Modifieds, on the other hand, are purpose built for racing. They are low to the ground with a high power to weight ratio. They also compete on wide, exposed tires, which require drivers to be precise in their on-track moves, or risk a quick end to their evening.
Frees is a master of the Street Stocks, but that does not guarantee success in the Modifieds. NJ racing history is littered with drivers who won in the full-fender machines, but were hardly competitive in the open-wheel divisions.
Ron Frees showed everyone on hand at Wall Stadium Speedway, on Saturday night, he not only brought his number 43 to the division, but his driving talent when he won the Downs Ford Wall Mod feature. While the win was impressive for all the reasons discussed above, what made it even more so is the level of competition at the Jersey Shore oval.
The driver of the number 43 machine found himself in victory lane over seasoned veterans like Chas Okerson, and Steven Reed. Finishing ahead of talented youngsters like Eric Mauriello, Derek Hopkinson, and the Alspach brothers, Zack and Trevor. He had won in a division where on any given night as many as 15 drivers could be considered favorites to pick up the win.
Ironically, before this Saturday, Ron Frees probably wasn't on that list of potential winners for many. After all, he was a Street Stock driver competing in the ultra-tough Mod division.
Now he not only moves close to the top of the list of potential winners on any given night at Wall, but he is also the RacingAroundJersey.com Driver of the Week for proving his driving talent isn't restricted to just one division.
In fact we now expect to see him back in victory lane soon. We just don't know whether it will be on dirt or asphalt, in a Street Stock or Modified, or anywhere else this talented driver chooses to compete.
Who is That Guy with Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
Chances are if you are a New Jersey racing fan, and have a Facebook account, you have seen a picture of Gilbert Martino with NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. In fact, you have probably seen him with Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham, and even Miss Sprint Cup.
But just who is Gilbert Martino, and how does he end up in all those photos, with so many well-known racing personalities?
It all started at Wall Stadium Speedway. The small, high-banked, paved oval, located near the Jersey Shore, that has produced such racing talent as the previous mentioned Ray Evernham, a Sprint Cup winning crew chief for Jeff Gordon, and Sprint Cup drivers Martin Truex Jr., and his younger brother Ryan, among others.
Gilbert has been a big part of Wall Stadium Speedway for as long as anyone can remember. He has always been, and continues to be, one of the first people looking to lend a hand anywhere he can. He has been a member of several racing teams over the years, most notably those of Vinny Green and Pete Brittain.
Shortly after Evernham, a Hazlet native, made a name for himself with Gordon in NASCAR, he took time to visit his home track. Gilbert of course was there, and struck up a conversation with the "Rainbow Warrior" crew chief. He told Evernham how much he really wanted to attend a Sprint Cup race.
Evernham gave Gilbert a contact person at Hendrick Motorsports, and it wasn't long before he found himself at a Sprint Cup race. Not as someone with a ticket to the race, but as a special guest of Hendrick Motorsports, even more precisely, of the number 24 team.
Gilbert brought that same "help any way he can" attitude to the number 24 team, and was invited to be a guest of theirs at Dover, Pocono, New Hampshire, and Watkins Glen, over the years. Even when Evernham left Hendricks to start his own team, Gilbert continued his relationship with the team.
So how did Gilbert end up being associated with Dale Earnhardt Jr.? That was all a matter of chance when the decision was made at Hendrick to switch the crews of the 24 and Earnhardt's 88. When Gordon's guys went over to Earnhardt so did Gilbert.
He also went to victory lane with Earnhardt, as he had with Gordon.
Gilbert continues to be a guest of Hendrick Motorsports for two NASCAR weekends a year, although he seems to attend a few more each year through a method he wasn't sharing with us. He is also still a regular at Wall Stadium Speedway, on most Saturday nights, doing what Gilbert does best, ready to lend a helping hand wherever needed.
Come to think of it, maybe that's how he gets into those other NASCAR weekends.